Chapter 7 – No Regrets
When Ace and Sabo, with Genzo carrying the latter, came up to the house on the hill, the first thing they saw was the trail of absolute destruction leading away from the house.
They didn't get the chance to admire the scene before their attention was captured by loud sobbing.
Nami desperately shook the boy lying on the ground, her words incoherent through her sobs. The moment she saw the three new arrivals, she completely ignored the two kids she'd never seen before and focused on the one person she knew.
"Please help! He's – he's dying! Help him! PLEASE!" She yelled as loud as she could.
Ace swayed on his feet as the world spun around him for a moment. His eyes zeroed in on his youngest brother lying unmoving on the ground.
The freckled boy's legs shook, his face a mask of disbelief and rising grief. He tried to run towards his brother but he couldn't. He tripped and fell down, his body too exhausted to even keep him standing anymore, the adrenaline from earlier having completely worn off.
Genzo however took charge immediately. He dropped Sabo, who was looking equally as shell-shocked, next to Ace and ran back towards the village to get the only doctor among them.
In the midst of it all, Nojiko groggily looked around, wondering what had happened while she was asleep.
Dr. Nako arrived at the house quickly and assessed Luffy's condition.
Ace and Sabo sat silently next to them, their gazes intense. A bewildered Nojiko was holding Nami as she sniffled and Genzo was waiting patiently, not knowing what else he could even do.
Nako suddenly cursed.
"What?! What happened?!" Ace immediately shouted, his emotions too volatile to hold the words back.
"His heart rate is too erratic!" Nako hurriedly tied some bandages to reduce the bleeding for the moment to make the boy more suitable for travel.
No one around him could say a word. They all felt powerless as they watched the doctor desperately trying to save the boy.
"Genzo, lift the boy up. Carefully! We're bringing him back to my clinic. I have a defibrillator there. It's our only chance to save him!" Nako ordered the sheriff.
Genzo complied without complaint and the adults both lifted the boy and quickly carried him back to the village, the lack of a proper stretcher hampering their pace.
As they entered the village, the surrounding townspeople who were previously celebrating abruptly quietened as they watched the scene. A boy who was leaking copious amounts of blood being hurriedly carried to the only clinic in their village.
Once there, Nako immediately put the boy on the patient's bed and set up the defibrillator. He charged the device and placed both paddles on Luffy's chest.
Absolutely nothing happened. The heart rate monitor continued to beep out of rhythm.
"Wha-?" Nako floundered for a moment before he tried again. He charged the device and sent a shock through the boy's chest once more.
And again, nothing happened.
"What's going on?! Why isn't it working?! He should at least jerk upwards but even that isn't happening! Why?!" Nako yelled in frustration.
Ace stared in despair at the scene. Sabo's eyes lost focus for a moment before they widened in realization. "I know! It's because he's rubber!" He shouted.
Nako and Genzo turned to him in confusion. But Ace was quick to comprehend his brother's words. "Luffy ate a devil fruit! It turned his entire body into rubber! And rubber, it – electricity – it doesn't –" Ace struggled to get his point across.
But Nako understood them clearly "Rubber is an electrical insulator. So then…" He looked at bleeding boy on the bed with complicated feelings. He sighed and put the paddles away. "We can do nothing then."
Ace almost jumped him, his exhaustion the only thing stopping him from doing so. He shouted in anger instead "What do you mean you can't do anything?! You're a doctor, aren't you?! Fix him! FIX MY BROTHER!"
Beside him, Sabo started to hyperventilate. He focused on taking deep breaths to calm down and also distract himself from throttling the old doctor.
Nako couldn't even reply. The saviour of their village, the one who defeated the boss fishman, the one who avenged his old friend Bell-mère. And he was unable to even save his life when he needed to. He looked down at the ground, ashamed.
While Ace continued to shout with Nami watching helplessly beside them all, Genzo had a face that looked like he was trying very hard to remember something.
He snapped his fingers as a memory from long ago came to his mind. "Seastone! We need seastone!"
The shouting stopped for a moment as everyone looked at him, silently willing him to explain. Genzo continued "I remember Bell-mère talking about it a long time ago. She said that the only way to counter a devil-fruit user's power is to make them come in contact with seastone!"
Sabo caught on quickly "So this seastone thing can turn Luffy back from rubber into a normal person?"
"Probably! That's the idea at least. Does anyone have some?" Genzo looked around at them all imploringly. He was met with negative responses all around and he felt dismay.
Genzo rushed out of the clinic. He saw the crowd gathered around the entrace and thanked his luck. He stood in front of them and addressed them "Does anyone among you have a piece of seastone? We need it to save the life of one of our heroes! Does anyone have any?"
The villagers looked at each other in confusion, most of them wondering what seastone even was. Genzo gritted his teeth in frustration "It's a precious mineral that is said to contain the power of the sea. It's a kind of metal. Anyone? Does anyone have some of it?"
No replies came forth as the villagers could only look around and shuffle awkwardly.
Inside the clinic, the monitor showed Luffy's heart rate fluctuating rapidly.
"Please!" Ace pulled himself outside and fell to his knees in front of the crowd "If anyone of you has any seastone, please let us borrow it! Please! We need it to save my brother's life! Please!"
He didn't get any positive response and Ace despaired as a wet sheen covered his eyes.
Sabo stared numbly as the beep that represented his brother's heart beat became more and more erratic.
"… Anyone?" A small voice came from the door of the clinic and everyone watched as Nami - her dress covered in her saviour's blood, tears streaming down her face – looked at the crowd hopefully. "I lost my mother today."
She sniffled pitifully "Please don't let my hero die for me too." She rubbed her eyes, trying to stop crying. Nojiko, not knowing what else to do, held her tenderly.
Everyone could only look at the ground below them silently, unable to do anything to help the situation.
Nako waited hopefully for someone to bring some seastone. He waited and waited.
But nobody came.
In the silence following the heartfelt plea, everyone heard someone running down the road towards them.
Ace numbly turned his head and saw a middle-aged woman running towards them. He squinted his eyes for a moment and realized that it was the woman that he and Sabo had first saved from the fishmen, the woman who was lagging behind the crowd of fleeing villagers and was about to be caught by a fishman.
The woman, her black braid bouncing behind her, her colorful dress marred by dirt, came to a stop in front of them and panted, her hands on her knees. She raised her head and looked at Ace kneeling in front of her, staring at her blankly.
She produced a bracelet from her closed hand. The ornament was entirely plain with no insciptions or designs whatsoever and looked like a dark metal cylinder bent into a ring big enough to fit around a person's wrist.
"I –" She breathed heavily as she spoke "This is a family heirloom my grandmother left me. I don't know if it's seastone or not but –" She swallowed "My grandmother said it's made of a very special metal that has the power of the sea. It – it could be what you need but I don't – exactly – I mean –" Her words stuttered, her voice not at all confident.
A new surge of adrenaline ran through Ace as he quickly grabbed the bracelet and ran inside, rushing past Nami who backed away in surprise then followed behind him. The woman fidgeted awkwardly and looked at the clinic, hoping for the best.
"Old man!" Ace shouted as he ran into the room and headed straight for his brother, ignoring the sounds coming from the heart rate monitor. He pushed Luffy's limp hand into the bracelet and let it rest on his wrist.
Not knowing what to do next, Ace grabbed one of Luffy's fingers and pulled.
But it didn't stretch.
"It works! Old man, the seastone works! He's not rubber anymore!" Ace shouted urgently.
Nako wasted no time being relieved and quickly charged the defibrillator once more. He placed the paddles on the wound-ridden chest gingerly.
The chest jerked upwards and some blood splashed out of the open wounds.
He glanced at the heart rate monitor for a moment and silently charged and placed the paddles again.
Luffy's chest jerked upwards again.
Nako quietly said a prayer under his breath and tried once more.
The third time was the charm.
He was rewarded with the beeping beginning to settle into a regular rhythm.
The old doctor let out a sigh of relief and put away the device. Ace and Sabo slumped in relief.
Luffy was still dying of course. But at least now, they had gained some more time to treat him.
Nako quickly took a blood sample to check the type and once he did, he ordered someone to go fetch a suitable volunteer while he went about preparing for a transfusion.
While Genzo went back outside to search for a volunteer to donate some blood, Ace followed behind him silently. Outside, before Genzo could say anything, Ace walked to the woman who lent him the bracelet.
Stopping before her, Ace kneeled and without any fanfare, put his head on the ground.
A moment of shocked silence passed.
The words came slowly articulated as though the speaker wasn't used to saying them. The voice was hoarse but clearly audible. And most of all, it was filled to the brim with emotion.
The woman snapped out of her shock and hurriedly pulled him up, mumbling her own gratitude all the while.
Ace stood silent as Genzo requested volunteers for a blood transfusion with the matching blood type. He leaned on the wall of the clinic and slowly slid down as he watched multiple people raise their hands, the woman from earlier among them.
He slowly sat on the ground and watched as the volunteers formed a line outside the clinic, Genzo worried that with the amount of blood the rubber boy had lost, one person might not be enough.
Ace's eyes slowly closed as he watched the woman stand in the front of the line, her face a mask of worry.
He closed his eyes fully and allowed himself to truly relax for the first time in many days.
When Luffy opened his eyes a few days later, he found himself in a decently sized bedroom. Light streamed in through the open windows and he looked groggily at the two other beds in the room, both of them empty.
His stomach arbitrarily decided to announce his wakefulness with a loud growl.
Ace, who was sitting on a chair next to his bed and slowly nodding off, suddenly perked up. He looked at the source of the sound and found his youngest brother slowly blinking his eyes.
"Luffy!" He shouted happily as he got up and hugged the other boy.
"Ace! I – ow!" Luffy yelped as pain shot through his body. Ace reared back in surprise and winced as he remembered the multiple bandages covering his brother's chest, his own body also dotted with the cloth.
Luffy on the other hand just took one look at his bandage covered chest and limbs and then proceeded to ignore them. They were truly nothing new after all this time. He focused more on the odd feeling of weakness he felt that had almost nothing to do with the wounds he had.
"Ace? I feel… weak. And hungry… Really hungry. Some food? Meat? Food?" He devolved into muttering the same words repeatedly.
Ace hurried out of the room, the door slamming behind him as Luffy watched blankly.
He returned a few minutes later with a giant plate filled with various types of meat and fish.
"Meat!" Luffy declared immediately and threw a hand towards the plate.
It didn't stretch.
He stared at his hand in confusion and threw it forward again. It failed to stretch once more.
"AAAH! I can't stretch! Ace, help! I can't stretch! AAAAHH!" He screamed in panic and flailed, almost falling off the bed in the process.
Ace smacked his head in annoyance. "Idiot. Stop moving around so much. You'll open the wounds again." He then scratched his head in thought "Now that I think about it, we didn't remove the seastone, did we?"
"Seastone?! Where?!" Luffy hurriedly scanned his body and found an unknown metallic bracelet on his arm.
He immediately removed it and tossed it across the room.
"Oi!" His brother yelled in alarm.
"I can stretch!" Luffy said much more energetically and proceeded to devour the food his brother had brought.
Ace, who had dived across the floor to catch the bracelet, sat on the floor and looked at him in equal parts annoyance and fond exasperation.
He huffed as he held up the bracelet "You idiot. Be thankful! This thing is what saved your life, you know!"
Luffy looked at him sceptically, his cheeks puffed and a large steak hanging out of his mouth.
"You're okay, right Ace?" Luffy looked at his patched up brother in concern.
"I should be the one asking you that." Ace muttered in reply as he went and sat on his own bed, the only inn in the village having provided them the only room with three beds they had.
"Yeah but I'm stronger than you so I'm more worried about you." Luffy said casually as he continued to eat.
Ace's eye twitched.
Sabo chose that moment to come in. His shoulder was fixed, his hands were holding crutches and his body was also dotted with bandages.
He looked at Luffy who was inhaling food as though it was air and then at Ace who was looking at the ceiling with an air of asking someone to kill him already.
He smiled happily "You guys look like you're having fun."
Luffy sat completely still as the old doctor removed the bandages on his chest. Chopper had taught him enough manners to at least not move when the doctor was doing something.
The three kids and the doctor who had come to their room looked at the three giant partially healed slash marks in fascination.
"Amazing healing ability you have." Nako remarked absentmindedly as he removed the bandages and prepared a fresh set.
"I just hope it heals over soon." Sabo mumbled.
Nako paused his work for a moment. He ducked his head and continued "I'm sorry but that probably won't happen."
The three brothers looked at him in alarm. Ace voiced their thoughts out loud "What do you mean? You said it will –"
"No no, that's not what I meant." Nako gave them a calming gesture.
He moved his fingers along the three wide slightly curved slash marks, going from Luffy's left shoulder to his right hip, the middle one slightly longer at the ends than the other two. The upper one started nearer to the collarbone and lower one started a bit below the armpit.
The doctor shook his head and continued "It's bad enough that I had to put bandages right on top of these but then the defibrillation just made matters worse. And then I found that there were a few chips of… teeth?" He looked at Luffy questioningly and the boy made no move to interrupt.
Nako shook his head again "Anyway, I found pieces of something in the wounds that had to be removed before I could patch them up."
He sighed "Unfortunately, I am not a trained surgeon. Nor do I have the tools to perform a surgery. As it is, I was lucky that the wounds were so big. Big enough for me to reach inside with some tweezers and remove them." He looked down sadly "Not without damage though."
The doctor said nothing more as he silently replaced the bandages on his patient's chest. Ace however couldn't stand still and asked "So what does all this mean, doc?"
Nako focused on his work as he replied "We were lucky that the slashes missed the heart" He tapped on the area above the heart that was between the middle and the upper wound. "Though considering that the slashes didn't reach past the rib cage, it wasn't quite as bad as it could have been."
Finished applying the bandages, Nako stood up and clapped his hands "What this means is that the wounds will heal well but instead of normal pink skin, they'll most likely form scars instead." He concluded.
The three brothers stared at him for a moment, then burst out with different responses.
"That's not that bad." Sabo stated, folding his arms.
"Damn, you got a battle scar before me." Ace stated as he looked enviously at his brother.
Luffy just laughed, finding it hilarious that he was getting a chest scar again.
"Don't laugh, damn it!" Ace burst out, annoyed.
Nako looked at the three kids arguing with each other. He stared blankly for a moment before he took a deep breath, preparing to explain why exactly scars were not a good thing to have.
In the end, he just sighed. He looked at the three kids again, his black shades showing nothing in his eyes as Ace angrily shook Luffy by his neck, Sabo tried to hold him back and the rubber boy grinned through it all.
Dr. Nako felt nostalgic as he remembered his own childhood. A moment later, he left the room, looking for Genzo and wondering if the sheriff was up for a drink.
Bell-mère's funeral had already concluded while Luffy was initially asleep. When Genzo informed him of what had occurred, Luffy immediately asked for the location of the grave.
He left his brothers behind to their antics as he went to visit the grave. He found it on top of a cliff that overlooked the sea.
A simple wooden cross was what Luffy saw and there was a fresh tangerine next to it on the ground.
Luffy sat cross-legged in front of the grave and stared at it bitterly.
He knew from last time that Nami had lost someone to Arlong in the beginning and even though he had refused to hear the explanation from her sister the previous time, he still knew that someone had died.
It was only now that he realized that it was her mother she had lost.
Because he was late.
Just a few minutes too late. At the time, he knew he was late and he had run as fast as he could to prevent whatever was about to happen.
He remembered the dead woman lying on the ground and remembered how he'd made sure to keep the fight away from her the entire time, taking more injuries in the process.
To top it all off, Sabo had told him earlier how exactly the group had come to use seastone in his treatment.
Luffy realized that in a twisted way, this dead woman had saved his life.
He sat silent as the straw hat on his head swayed in the wind, a new pair of shorts were on his legs and he had foregone the shirt entirely, the bandages providing sufficient cover.
Luffy clenched his fists in his lap. He had experience losing brothers and friends but even he knew that it felt entirely different losing a parent.
He wondered for a moment how he'd feel if his grandpa died. He banished the thought away, not wanting to even imagine it.
Luffy continued to stare bitterly at the cross, lamenting his powerlessness.
As had happened with Ace before, doubts born of guilt came to his mind. Could he have saved her if he had rowed the boat faster? If he had defeated the pirates quicker? If he had not hesitated so long after he had seen the newspaper?
Luffy felt more and more bitter as time passed, as he came to terms with his powerlessness.
With his weakness.
"It's not your fault, you know."
Luffy's head snapped up and he turned to look at Nami who was sitting silently next to him, her legs pulled up to her chest.
He hadn't even noticed her arrive.
Luffy blinked at her "What – what are you talking about? I don't –"
"You feel bad that you couldn't get there earlier, right?" Nami asked softly, the past few quiet days having given her enough time to mourn, think and calm down.
Luffy didn't reply.
"It's not your fault." She stated once more "The others told me, you know. How someone ran through the entire village so fast they couldn't even see him clearly."
Luffy stayed silent, remembering the way he'd run faster than ever before to get to her.
If only he'd run faster…
"Stop that." Nami suddenly ordered and Luffy could only look at her bewildered. She tried to scowl at him but failed "Stop that. Stop moping. You did your best. Sure, you couldn't save my… mother…" Her voice hitched for a moment.
But she continued, looking at him softly "But you saved me. You didn't even let him touch me even once. I can't imagine what he would have done if –" She stopped speaking.
Truthfully, Nami could imagine. She wasn't stupid despite being young. She remembered that she had only gotten the fishman's attention after he saw the map she'd drawn. So it stood to reason that he wanted to make use of her map drawing skills.
Nami could imagine a scenario where she was made to draw map after map in a dark room, fed only scraps of food and beaten if she didn't do a good job.
It was a nightmare even in her imagination.
But that wasn't going to happen to her now.
All thanks to the boy sitting next to her.
So Nami smiled at him brightly, the early evening sun giving her face an orange glow to match her hair.
Luffy looked at her. Her smiling face overlapped with one from his memories, of her adult self.
"Luffy…" Blood fell from her shoulder as she looked at him with tears in her eyes "Help me…"
Luffy decided he didn't regret his actions.
He was too late to save her mother, definitely.
But he was just in time to save Nami herself.
And that's what mattered to him the most.
They sat in silence for a while as they watched the sun slowly fall into the horizon.
"Neh…" Luffy turned to her when she spoke "Why are you so strong?"
Luffy tilted his head and looked forward again, the answer to that question he'd given a few times by now to different people "Because I want to be able to protect my friends. So I train. I train myself everyday until I can barely stand."
Another minute of silence passed.
"How did you know I was in trouble? You're not from here, right?" Nami asked, more curious about that than anything else.
Luffy answered her "I had a dream. I saw Arlong kidnapping you and making your life miserable." His fists clenched "I just knew I'd regret it forever if I let that happen" again he added in his mind.
Nami was intrigued by his answer. The situation that he saw her in a dream and came to rescue her was a story straight out of a book as far as she was concerned.
But she was still young, she admitted to herself. Maybe such things could happen in the big wide world. She didn't know. For that matter, she didn't even know things called devil fruits existed until she saw him.
But regardless of his bizarre answer, she was grateful nonetheless.
Some time passed as both of them were lost in their own thoughts.
Then Nami silently asked another question.
"Do you know me?"
Luffy didn't reply this time, the question too loaded for him to give a straight answer.
However, he didn't have to.
Luffy looked at her in confusion.
"My name is Nami." The girl said with a smile.
Luffy blinked for a moment before he grinned at her.
"I'm Luffy!" He said, his chest filled with elation.
They sat in a comfortable silence for a while longer.
"What do you want to do in the future?" Nami asked, curious to know what he was going to do with all that strength he possessed.
"I want to be a pirate!" Luffy declared happily.
The smile on Nami's face cracked.
However, Luffy continued.
"I want to go to the Grand Line! I want to see weird animals! I want to eat new tasty food! I want to visit islands in the sky! I want to visit islands under the sea!"
He rambled on, ignorant of the way Nami's face went from happiness to dismay to curiosity to plain disbelief.
"I want to fight strong people! I want to save countries from bad guys! I want to have huge parties!"
"I want to make more friends! I want to find the One Piece! I want to become the Pirate King!"
His chest ached as memories from many years ago passed through his mind. He was overcome with nostalgia.
Perhaps as a result of his actions, Nami wouldn't join him in his journey this time. Perhaps she'd decide that a quiet life in the village suited her. Perhaps as the years passed…
… She'd forget about him.
Luffy desperately held back his tears as he stood up and spread his hands wide.
Luffy did not regret his actions.
As long as Nami was happy, he was satisfied.
As long as she wasn't suffering, he was satisfied.
He was happy.
His voice shook as he spoke once more, sounding happier than ever before.
"I want to go on an adventure."
His soft voice echoed in Nami's ears.
A gust of wind blew from ahead and Luffy held onto his hat. He grinned eagerly at the setting sun, wishing with all his heart for the day when he was old enough to leave to come soon, but knowing deep down that he wasn't ready yet.
So Luffy made his promise to the world.
"And eight years from now, I will."
Luffy would not regret his actions.
Regardless of consequences.
A/N: I don't think this needs to be said but this is NOT a romance fic. Perhaps some scenes will have a 'romantic vibe' in the future but this story is not focused on exploring romantic feelings and emotions and relationships. And no future smut either. Just sayin'.
Finally, it's time I acknowledged that I made a mistake in this story. The ages. Or rather, the timeline.
Canonically, Luffy was around 7 when he met Shanks. He was 7 for the whole of the childhood arc. He was 8 when Jimbei became a warlord. He was 9 when Arlong invaded Cocoyashi.
I did not know this stuff when I wrote the earlier chapters. I'll freely admit it.
But for your peace of mind, here's what I came up with for this story: Luffy was 7 when he met Shanks. He was 8 when Garp took him to Dadan. He reached 9 as he spent the months with Ace and Sabo. And he was still 9 when he went to rescue Nami. Add 3 for his brothers' ages.
Luckily, it doesn't really make a ton of difference either way. But having a proper timeline might give some people peace of mind.
Question to Reader
How is the pacing of this story?